House collapse points to bigger problem in Philadelphia

July 23, 2013 3:27:23 PM PDT
A dwelling that's been vacant for 15 years collapsed overnight at 2340 Greenwich Street in South Philadelphia.

While that house may have been vacant, the structures on both sides are occupied.

Demolition started within hours after the back of the house came crashing down Tuesday morning.

What happened here is an example of the huge problem the city is facing with dangerous buildings and negligent owners.

"It sounded like a train rushing through," said next door neighbor Tyrone Darby.

The rumble shook Darby out of his bed. He's just lucky a tree prevented the debris from falling onto his house.

Darby has complained about this vacant house for years.

L &I has slapped the property with numerous violations. The city says it sealed the property eight months ago.

"They said they refused to go in the back because it was a hazard walking underneath where it collapsed. So they didn't board up the back, they just boarded up the front," said Darby, noting that it was too dangerous even for L&I inspectors to get near the back of the property.

Last month the city cited the property again for unsafe conditions including a partially collapsed roof and wall.

The owner, Earl Flowers, never responded. He would have been hauled into court if he ignored two more inspections this month and next.

But Tuesday morning's collapse brings an end to all that and a longstanding blight for this neighborhood.

"We've had issues with this since the early 90's - '91, '92," said block captain Moses Cotton. Asked what the city has done about it, Cotton said, "Zero. Nothing."

L &I says its hands are tied. The agency can cite negligent property owners repeatedly and drag them into court, but the owners face few, if any, consequences.

And the city can't just seize private property.

L &I took the owner of this property to court last November. But the case hasn't even been scheduled for a hearing yet.

Neighbors of buildings like this are left wondering if it takes a disaster to get action, like the demolition collapse in Center City last month that killed six people.

"I thank the Lord that nobody got hurt in this ordeal," said Cotton.

There are thousands of properties just like the one that collapsed Tuesday around the city. The taxpayers are now paying $14,000 to have this one torn down.

Flowers will be billed, but he already owes back taxes here that he's been ignoring for years.


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